Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased

Opening statement

I think we’re coming off of a game where there’s some frustration from our guys. I thought we put a lot into the game, created a lot of chances early, scored three goals on the road in a tough place to play, in a place where Salt Lake only lost one game last year.

Like I said before, I thought we deserved three points. My guys put a lot of work in, created a lot. I thought we had a good game plan to close the game out, as well –something we talked about a great deal in the preseason — and executed that plan up until maybe the mistake by the referee. I thought Zach Pfeffer came into the game into a tough spot, and Michael Lahoud came into the game in a tough spot, and did a good job to limit their chances. If you go back and watch the tape, of course they’re going to come at us when we’re up 3-2, so, happy that we were able to hold on. Obviously, the referee makes a tough decision against us but, something that went against us again for two weeks in-a-row. But, we’ll move forward now.

Our focus has been on Dallas. We’ve talked about the tape from Salt Lake, we’ve gone through it a million times, and the group has been a lot better in terms of talking through situations, and getting more feedback in film, and giving feedback to the coaches, and they’re holding each other accountable a lot more, which is very good and healthy, and for me to see, it puts a smile on my face because they’re not satisfied with the results and the way things have gone the last two games, and things we can improve on.

I have a team in FC Dallas coming into PPL, a team that’s done very well in their first two games, kind of the talk of the league in some ways. A coach that I respect a great deal in Oscar Pareja; a team that, for me, if you go back to about the midway point of last season, is in the upper echelon, they’re right on the cusp of being in the discussions of the LA and the Seattles — they’re that good, I respect them that much, they’re that dangerous. We’ve had a battle or two with them of late in the US Open Cup, so we know what they’re all about, we know it will be a tough test. We know they’re personnel that’s dangerous: Castillo, Akindele, Diaz, when they get going are a handful, so we recognize the task at hand, and it’s one that we’ll be up for in front of our home crowd coming up here on Friday.

How tough is it to rebound from games where you think you’ve done enough for three points but that is not the final result?

I think they’re different. Last year they were self-inflicted wounds — our growing pains, our growing and learning process. These last two games, by the own referees’ admissions, were mistakes by refs. Listen, no one is…I have a good relationship with the referees in this league, I know it’s the hard job, it’s an incredibly hard job, it’s a thankless job, it’s difficult. It’s a hard league to ref because, in some ways, the players don’t always respect each other, you know? So for them to respect the refs is difficult. It’s a hard, hard job to do, but there was some critical calls that maybe didn’t go our way. We can’t complain about it and dwell on it, we’re looking forward not to bouncing back.

But I would not say that in anyway last year’s collapses are similar to this one game in Salt Lake. Like I said, I thought our players executed, limited Salt Lake’s chances towards the end of the game. I thought from the 75th minute on, which is the last 15 minutes that I talk about, the only clear chance they had was the header by Saborio. And listen, when a good team is coming at you at the end of the game, they’re going to come in waves and create chances. So, Rais makes a save on that one. But outside of that, I thought we actually slowed the game down, were able to counter a little bit, and it felt comfortable up until the call. And I could walk through that call because I’ve seen five or six things that led up to it that were frustrating, so we can do better, in that regard, and prevent things.

On what it would mean to defeat a team like Dallas that is playing so well

They’re ranked number… the rankings are…it’s early, it’s two games in, so you don’t want to run too far with them, but they are ranked as a top team in our league.

For me, Castillo is, 1-v-1, the most dangerous guy in the league right now. He really has a way of wrong-footing defenders, can get to the end line whenever he wants, is as fast as anyone in the league, so that is a guy that we’ll have to focus on, obviously. Blas Perez is kind of in the Carlos Ruiz mode, similar to in in regard to not a player’s favorite to play against: he’s difficult to play against, he’s physical, but you’d love him on your team because he scores big goals for you. Akindele is a young player who gets better and better each week, I thought he made a great play on their second goal — actually, their first goal this week against Kansas City. So, again, Diaz is starting to get going, they’ve got two guys that hold that are, in Ulloa and Michel, are kind of the unsung heroes in the group, that protect their back four and do a really good job of that, and they have a solid, organized back four. So, they’re a strong team, one that we respect a great deal but, at the same time, we don’t fear.

Can you comment on the report that Danny Cruz will be going on loan?

Yeah, Danny, it’s no secret now, will be going on loan to Norway. I addressed the team and told them about that, it’s something that’s been in the works for a little while now. He had a little hamstring [injury during the preseason] so we held off on releasing it when was the right time. But he is going to…He’s at an age now, and I’ve had good discussions with Danny about it, he’s at an age now where he needs to be getting starting minutes. He’s still young — people forget how young he still is — but he needs to be getting 90 minutes, and we thought at this moment of his career that was more likely to happen in Norway. So, it’ll be a great experience for him, see a new league, different challenges that go along with that, and hopefully when he comes back he’ll be better than ever.

What has he reaction to the loan? 

He’s excited. He’s really excited to embrace a new challenge. He loves the Philadelphia Union, he loves the fans here, he enjoys playing for me — these are his words to me. So, you know, he’s a passionate guy, but he also embraces the new challenge that he has. He saw it as a situation, and I was open with him, I said, “Yes, you have the quality to be a MLS starter, but with the players that we currently have, I can’t guarantee 90 minutes.” That was kind of where he was at, and he respected that. I have a good relationship with Danny, we talk openly and freely, and, you know, it’s a hard decision, for sure, because he is a spark off the bench, for sure. But at the same time, we have some young players that are coming up now, too, and I thought it was the best move for Danny and the Union.

Can you say more about the guys you are thinking about to fill the role Cruz did?

There’s different guys that have stepped up, obviously. Timing wise, it’s unfortunate because a guy like CJ goes down, you know? Has the freak injury, the facial fracture, which is a difficult one. So he would obviously gives us more depth in that position. And you see Zach Pfeffer has really risen to the occasion and is a guy that I can throw out wide right, or wide left, or as the No. 10, so we are starting to have some depth. Eric Ayuk has come in and starting to really impress in training. So, it wasn’t a situation where Danny became expendable by any means, but every player you have to look at what’s best for them in their, first, helping the Philadelphia Union, and then their development, and then, you know, what makes the most sense, and that’s kind of the direction we moved with Danny.

Can you say anything about the club Cruz is going to?

I kind of have to be quiet about that until it’s official. I couldn’t pronounce it, anyway.

On Cristian Maidana’s injury

Yeah, so, he had kind of another one that was a strange one, where everyone’s excited on the new training field, the new practice field, buzzing around, and he went into a tackle with Raymond Lee. Nothing malicious, just an unfortunate one where Raymond’s foot’s there, the ball is there, Chaco hits the ball as hard as he can with his left foot, and it just kind of twisted a little. He seemed to know something wasn’t right right away, but the tests that we got back, it’s not going to be a major injury where he’s out for a long time.

It’s a tough one though because with Chaco, he gets going, and when he gets going — you guys saw last week against Salt Lake — he is one of the most dangerous guys in our league. So, he puts together a very good game and then now to have a little set back is difficult; last year it was with the hamstring, this one’s a little bit of a freak injury where he just kind of, timing wise, hit the ball in a strange, funny spot for his knee, and it just twisted a little bit. It’s not serious, so they’re cautiously optimistic [he’ll miss only] two weeks or so. I’m always on the shorter end of the diagnosis, hopefully he gets back quick and doesn’t lose any fitness.

Any other injuries to report?

No, we’re fairly healthy. I’m trying to think; I think that’s pretty much it. Other than that, I think we’re OK.

Update on CJ Sapong

CJ, it’s a unique one because he had a minor concussion as well [as a facial fracture]. We’re very cautious with head injuries these days, so he still has some symptoms from head injury. We’re not going to rush him back. He had a plate put in there [gestures to his left cheek] as recently as yesterday, so he’ll get fitted for the old mask, the Rip Hamilton mask, that he’ll have to get used to wearing; that’s usually an uncomfortable thing.

He was happy, though. First surgery the kid’s ever had so, he was a little nervous. But, at the same time, he knew there was something in there to get fixed. I spoke with him before the surgery and he said when he was talking he could feel a bone floating around in there when he spoke so, obviously, he’s probably eager to get that fixed and get back on the field. He’s a kid who’s naturally just gifted and fit, so I’m hoping that he doesn’t lose a lot of fitness with the injury. We’ll do our best to keep him going because it is an upper — his legs will be busy still over the next weeks so we can keep that fitness level for him. But, hopefully, it’s not a long one.

Obviously with the concussion, I don’t have a definitive answer on that because you have to be cautious with that.

On playing on Friday nights

I think that, honestly, it’s kind of two parts. I think the first part is, the fact that we have nights designated for soccer nationally now it special. To have a Friday night game that people know, every Friday, there’s going to be a game on is great in terms of just knowing when you can turn on the TV and when it will be there. The first weekend, that’s all that everybody talked about, all my friends, all my meat-head football friends talked about was, you know, couldn’t believe how much MLS was on TV, with the triple header that I think wound up being on a Sunday. Just having the games there in time slots where you know they’re going to be on. As players, to know  you have a Friday night game where you know you’re the only team playing, and everyone else in the league watching, is special, it puts a little bit more into the game. Obviously, our fans will come out an support us know matter what, but it does make the game even a little bit more special for them, too, to put on a bit of a show for the rest of the league, to come knowing you’re going to be on national TV on UniMas.

The Hispanic side, yeah, you’re right, Philly does not have a huge Hispanic population, but it’s a growing one, for sure. I live down in toward the Italian Market, and there’s certainly Union fans, certainly soccer fans down there, and a lot of Mexican fans that are dialed in to our team probably more than people would believe. It is important to get the Hispanic population because our country is growing in that regard. I was lucky, I played with Cuauhtémoc Blanco where we would travel anywhere on the road, we had a huge advantage because they would come out and support him specifically and, obviously, the Chicago Fire almost secondary, just to see him because he was such an icon.

But, yeah, it’s a growing sport. It’s great to have a game on on a Friday night where everyone is watching.

Does Maidana’s injury mean you will be using a third different formation for the third week in a row, or are you planning to slot someone else into where Maidana played in Salt Lake?

I can’t really get into too much specifics. We’re going to play 11. Just 11 guys.

No, we’ve talked through some different things. Being at home will factor in to the decision. It’s clear to anyone that watches us play, that watched us from Week 1 to Week 2. Oscar’s a smart guy, he knows what my options are. Zach Pfeffer’s definitely an option to slide right in for Chaco, he’s in good form. I also have Conor Casey, could play as a second forward. I have Michael Lahoud if I want to start to think about more defensive. I’m not going to reveal too much, but Zach is definitely in the discussion.

Continuity is important to the group regardless of the formation that we play. I’m most happy with the fact that we haven’t given up a goal in the run of play. Our last game, the three goals we give up, the first one’s a good free kick by Morales that hits Ray in the head and goes in the upper corner; the second one I was disappointed with because we had a silly foul outside the box, which we talked about all week, not conceding silly fouls around the box because Morales hits a good free kick. We did that and got thrown around a little bit for a goal in the box, got tangled up with some guys. And then the third one, the penalty kick that we don’t need to discuss anymore. So, happy with, in the run of play, we don’t get broken down much, whether it’s a 4-4-2, a 4-2-3-1, a 4-1-4-1, whatever you want to call it. Formations, sometimes people get caught up in just the numbers of them. You need good soccer players, and I have good soccer players that can adapt on the fly and execute game plans. Like I said, it’s grown greatly in their ability to talk more and communicate more on the field, after in film, whatever it might be. We have a real confidence now to throw different things at, not only our players, but the other team.

What’s different with Zach Pfeffer that you’re willing to play him?

He’s earned that. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around him longer. I’ve been around him since he was 15, 16 years old, and I’ve seen his maturity. Zach’s always been a great offensive player, has a knack to score a goal; probably as much as any midfielder on our team, he’s very good around the goal. He’s got the fast twitch, quick first step that you can’t really teach as a coach, so he’s special in that regard. He’s always had the attacking side of the game, and I think that this offseason, and this preseason, for the first time he’s embraced the defensive side of the game, whether that means getting stuck in on a tackle, tracking back defensively, he’s really — and he’s even admitted it — he’s bought into that part of things a great deal. Our coaching staff has seen it, everyone’s seen it that we play against, the other coaches have talked about it to me. So, it’s good to see him growing as a player. Again, people forget that he’s 20 years old; I think when I was 20 years old I was still doing some bad things in college. So, he’s still a young kid that has grown a great deal, has been in a pro environment now for several years, and he’s taken it and running with it at this stage. And, again, it’s still early, we’re two games into the year. He’s contributed in the first two games, and now we’ll see how the roster selection goes for Friday night, but he could be in a position now where he’s a starter.

On Villanova in the NCAA basketball tournament

Everyone’s down on them, which is surprising. You know, I feel like, again, we haven’t gotten much respect home or away this year, and now Nova’s not getting a lot from all the big pundits. I like that not a lot of teams, or not a lot of the experts, are selecting them to do much damage. I think they’ll be in the Final Four just because, you know, they might not have a ton of pros on their team, but they have all bought into the system and I think sometimes a team is bigger than any one player. I think they shoot the three well, they can go inside a little bit more than they have in the past, and they can defend. So, those three combinations at tournament time when it’s  survive and advance time, I think that they’re built for a run into the Final Four. From there? Listen, Kentucky is the best team, I don’t think that’s a secret, but Villanova, in a one-off, can go toe-to-toe with them.

I can talk college hoops if you want all day (laughs).

One Comment

  1. Gotta love the candor. Excited to see who he throws out there tomorrow night. Jim’s headstrong, the boys are hungry, I’m feeling confident.

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